President of the United States
The power of the presidency has grown substantially since its formation, as has the power of the federal government as a whole.
While presidential power has ebbed and flowed over time, the presidency has played an increasingly strong role in American political life since the beginning of the 20th century, with a notable expansion during the presidency of Franklin D. Roosevelt
. In contemporary times, the president is also looked upon as one of the world's most powerful political figures as the leader of the only remaining global superpower
As the leader of the nation with the largest economy by nominal GDP
, the president possesses significant domestic and international hard
and soft power
Article II of the Constitution
establishes the executive branch of the federal government and vests the executive power in the president. The power includes the execution and enforcement of federal law and the responsibility to appoint federal executive, diplomatic, regulatory, and judicial officers. Based on constitutional provisions empowering the president to appoint and receive ambassadors and conclude treaties with foreign powers, and on subsequent laws enacted by Congress, the modern presidency has primary responsibility for conducting U.S. foreign policy. The role includes responsibility for directing the world's most expensive military
, which has the second largest nuclear arsenal
The president also plays a leading role in federal legislation and domestic policymaking. As part of the system of checks and balances
, Article I, Section 7
of the Constitution gives the president the power to sign or veto
federal legislation. Since modern presidents are also typically viewed as the leaders of their political parties, major policymaking is significantly shaped by the outcome of presidential elections, with presidents taking an active role in promoting their policy priorities to members of Congress who are often electorally dependent on the president.
In recent decades, presidents have also made increasing use of executive orders
, agency regulations, and judicial appointments to shape domestic policy.
History and development
Under the Articles, which took effect
on March 1, 1781, the Congress of the Confederation
was a central political authority without any legislative power. It could make its own resolutions, determinations, and regulations, but not any laws, and could not impose any taxes or enforce local commercial regulations upon its citizens.
This institutional design reflected how Americans believed the deposed British system of Crown
ought to have functioned with respect to the royal dominion
: a superintending body for matters that concerned the entire empire.
The states were out from under any monarchy and assigned some formerly royal prerogatives
(e.g., making war, receiving ambassadors, etc.) to Congress; the remaining prerogatives were lodged within their own respective state governments. The members of Congress elected a president of the United States in Congress Assembled
to preside over its deliberation as a neutral discussion moderator
. Unrelated to and quite dissimilar from the later office of president of the United States, it was a largely ceremonial position without much influence.
In 1783, the Treaty of Paris
secured independence for each of the former colonies. With peace at hand, the states each turned toward their own internal affairs.
By 1786, Americans found their continental borders besieged and weak and their respective economies in crises as neighboring states agitated trade rivalries with one another. They witnessed their hard currency
pouring into foreign markets to pay for imports, their Mediterranean
commerce preyed upon by North African pirates
, and their foreign-financed Revolutionary War debts unpaid and accruing interest.
Civil and political unrest loomed.
Following the successful resolution of commercial and fishing disputes between Virginia
and Maryland at the Mount Vernon Conference
in 1785, Virginia called for a trade conference between all the states, set for September 1786 in Annapolis, Maryland
, with an aim toward resolving further-reaching interstate commercial antagonisms. When the convention
failed for lack of attendance due to suspicions among most of the other states, Alexander Hamilton
led the Annapolis delegates in a call for a convention to offer revisions to the Articles, to be held the next spring in Philadelphia
. Prospects for the next convention appeared bleak until James Madison
and Edmund Randolph
succeeded in securing George Washington
's attendance to Philadelphia as a delegate for Virginia.
When the Constitutional Convention
convened in May 1787, the 12 state delegations in attendance (Rhode Island
did not send delegates) brought with them an accumulated experience over a diverse set of institutional arrangements between legislative and executive branches from within their respective state governments. Most states maintained a weak executive without veto or appointment powers, elected annually by the legislature to a single term only, sharing power with an executive council, and countered by a strong legislature. New York
offered the greatest exception, having a strong, unitary governor with veto and appointment power elected to a three-year term, and eligible for reelection to an indefinite number of terms thereafter.
It was through the closed-door negotiations at Philadelphia that the presidency framed in the U.S. Constitution
As the nation's first president, George Washington established many norms that would come to define the office.
His decision to retire after two terms helped address fears that the nation would devolve into monarchy,
and established a precedent that would not be broken until 1940 and would eventually be made permanent by the Twenty-Second Amendment
. By the end of his presidency, political parties had developed,
with John Adams
defeating Thomas Jefferson
in 1796, the first truly contested presidential election.
After Jefferson defeated Adams in 1800, he and his fellow Virginians James Madison
and James Monroe
would each serve two terms, eventually dominating the nation's politics during the Era of Good Feelings
until Adams' son John Quincy Adams
won election in 1824 after the Democratic-Republican Party
The election of Andrew Jackson
in 1828 was a significant milestone, as Jackson was not part of the Virginia and Massachusetts elite that had held the presidency for its first 40 years.Jacksonian democracy
sought to strengthen the presidency at the expense of Congress, while broadening public participation as the nation rapidly expanded westward. However, his successor, Martin Van Buren
, became unpopular after the Panic of 1837
and the death of William Henry Harrison
and subsequent poor relations between John Tyler
and Congress led to further weakening of the office.
Including Van Buren, in the 24 years between 1837 and 1861, six presidential terms would be filled by eight different men, with none winning re-election.
The Senate played an important role during this period, with the Great Triumvirate
of Henry Clay
, Daniel Webster
, and John C. Calhoun
playing key roles in shaping national policy in the 1830s and 1840s until debates over slavery began pulling the nation apart in the 1850s.
's leadership during the Civil War
has led historians to regard him as one of the nation's greatest presidents.[D]
The circumstances of the war and Republican domination of Congress made the office very powerful,
and Lincoln's re-election in 1864 was the first time a president had been re-elected since Jackson in 1832. After Lincoln's assassination, his successor Andrew Johnson
lost all political support
and was nearly removed from office,
with Congress remaining powerful during the two-term presidency of Civil War general Ulysses S. Grant
. After the end of Reconstruction
, Grover Cleveland
would eventually become the first Democratic president elected since before the war, running in three consecutive elections (1884, 1888, 1892) and winning twice. In 1900, William McKinley
became the first incumbent to win re-election since Grant in 1872.
After McKinley's assassination, Theodore Roosevelt
became a dominant figure in American politics.
Historians believe Roosevelt permanently changed the political system by strengthening the presidency,
with some key accomplishments including breaking up trusts, conservationism, labor reforms, making personal character as important as the issues, and hand-picking his successor, William Howard Taft
. The following decade, Woodrow Wilson
led the nation to victory during World War I
, although Wilson's proposal for the League of Nations
was rejected by the Senate. Warren Harding
, while popular in office, would see his legacy tarnished by scandals, especially Teapot Dome
and Herbert Hoover
quickly became very unpopular after failing to alleviate the Great Depression
President Roosevelt delivers a radio address, 1933
The ascendancy of Franklin D. Roosevelt
in the election of 1932 led further toward what historians now describe as the Imperial Presidency
Backed by enormous Democratic majorities in Congress and public support for major change, Roosevelt's New Deal
dramatically increased the size and scope of the federal government, including more executive agencies.:211–12
The traditionally small presidential staff was greatly expanded, with the Executive Office of the President
being created in 1939, none of whom require Senate confirmation.:229–231
Roosevelt's unprecedented re-election to a third and fourth term, the victory of the United States in World War II
, and the nation's growing economy all helped established the office as a position of global leadership.:269
His successors, Harry Truman
and Dwight D. Eisenhower
, were each re-elected as the Cold War
led the presidency to be viewed as the "leader of the free world,"
while John F. Kennedy
was a youthful and popular leader who benefitted from the rise of television in the 1960s.
After Lyndon B. Johnson
lost popular support due to the Vietnam War
and Richard Nixon
's presidency collapsed in the Watergate scandal
, Congress enacted a series of reforms intended to reassert itself.
These included the War Powers Resolution
, enacted over Nixon's veto in 1973,
and the Congressional Budget and Impoundment Control Act of 1974
that sought to strengthen congressional fiscal powers.
By 1976, Gerald Ford
conceded that "the historic pendulum" had swung toward Congress, raising the possibility of a "disruptive" erosion of his ability to govern.
Both Ford and his successor, Jimmy Carter
, failed to win re-election. Ronald Reagan
, who had been an actor before beginning his political career, used his talent as a communicator to help re-shape the American agenda away from New Deal policies toward more conservative ideology.
His vice president, George H. W. Bush
, would become the first vice president since 1836 to be directly elected to the presidency.
With the Cold War ending and the United States becoming the world's undisputed leading power, Bill Clinton
, George W. Bush
, and Barack Obama
each served two terms as president. Meanwhile, Congress and the nation gradually became more politically polarized, especially following the 1994 mid-term elections
that saw Republicans control the House for the first time in 40 years, and the rise of routine filibusters
in the Senate in recent decades.
Recent presidents have thus increasingly focused on executive orders
, agency regulations, and judicial appointments to implement major policies, at the expense of legislation and congressional power.
Presidential elections in the 21st century have reflected this continuing polarization, with no candidate except Obama in 2008 winning by more than five percent of the popular vote and two — George W. Bush and Donald Trump
— winning in the Electoral College while losing the popular vote.[E]
Both Clinton and Trump were impeached by a House controlled by the opposition party, but the impeachments did not appear to have long-term effects on their political standing.
Critics of presidency's evolution
The nation's Founding Fathers
expected the Congress
—which was the first branch of government described in the Constitution
—to be the dominant branch of government; they did not expect a strong executive department.
However, presidential power has shifted over time, which has resulted in claims that the modern presidency has become too powerful,
and "monarchist" in nature.
In 2008 Professor Dana D. Nelson
expressed belief that presidents over the previous thirty years worked towards "undivided presidential control of the executive branch and its agencies".
She criticized proponents of the Unitary executive theory
for expanding "the many existing uncheckable executive powers—such as executive orders, decrees, memorandums, proclamations, national security directives and legislative signing statements—that already allow presidents to enact a good deal of foreign and domestic policy without aid, interference or consent from Congress". Bill Wilson
, board member of Americans for Limited Government
, opined that the expanded presidency was "the greatest threat ever to individual freedom and democratic rule".
Article I, Section 1
of the Constitution vests all lawmaking power
in Congress's hands, and Article 1, Section 6, Clause 2
prevents the president (and all other executive branch officers) from simultaneously being a member of Congress. Nevertheless, the modern presidency exerts significant power over legislation, both due to constitutional provisions and historical developments over time.
Signing and vetoing bills
The president's most significant legislative power derives from the Presentment Clause
, which gives the President the power to veto any bill
passed by Congress
. While Congress can override a presidential veto, it requires a two-thirds vote
of both houses, which is usually very difficult to achieve except for widely supported bipartisan legislation. The framers of the Constitution feared that Congress would seek to increase its power and enable a "tyranny of the majority," so giving the indirectly-elected president a veto was viewed as an important check on the legislative power. While George Washington
believed the veto should only be used in cases where a bill was unconstitutional, it is now routinely used in cases where presidents have policy disagreements with a bill. The veto – or threat of a veto – has thus evolved to make the modern presidency a central part of the American legislative process.
Specifically, under the Presentment Clause, once a bill has been presented by Congress, the president has three options:
- Sign the legislation within ten days, excluding Sundays—the bill becomes law.
- Veto the legislation within the above timeframe and return it to the house of Congress from which it originated, expressing any objections—the bill does not become law, unless both houses of Congress vote to override the veto by a two-thirds vote.
- Take no action on the legislation within the above timeframe—the bill becomes law, as if the president had signed it, unless Congress is adjourned at the time, in which case it does not become law (a pocket veto).
In 1996, Congress attempted to enhance the president's veto power with the Line Item Veto Act
. The legislation empowered the president to sign any spending bill into law while simultaneously striking certain spending items within the bill, particularly any new spending, any amount of discretionary spending, or any new limited tax benefit. Congress could then repass that particular item. If the president then vetoed the new legislation, Congress could override the veto by its ordinary means, a two-thirds vote in both houses. In Clinton v. City of New York
, 524U.S. 417
(1998), the U.S. Supreme Court
ruled such a legislative alteration of the veto power to be unconstitutional.
Setting the agenda
For most of American history, candidates for president have sought election on the basis of a promised legislative agenda. Formally, Article II, Section 3, Clause 2
requires the president to recommend such measures to Congress which the president deems "necessary and expedient." This is done through the constitutionally-based State of the Union
address, which usually outlines the president's legislative proposals for the coming year, and through other formal and informal communications with Congress.
The president can be involved in crafting legislation by suggesting, requesting, or even insisting that Congress enact laws he believes are needed. Additionally, he can attempt to shape legislation during the legislative process by exerting influence on individual members of Congress.
Presidents possess this power because the Constitution is silent about who can write legislation, but the power is limited because only members of Congress can introduce legislation.
The president or other officials of the executive branch may draft legislation and then ask senators or representatives to introduce these drafts into Congress. Additionally, the president may attempt to have Congress alter proposed legislation by threatening to veto that legislation unless requested changes are made.
Many laws enacted by Congress do not address every possible detail, and either explicitly or implicitly delegate powers of implementation to an appropriate federal agency. As the head of the executive branch, presidents control a vast array of agencies
that can issue regulations with little oversight from Congress.
In the 20th century, critics charged that too many legislative and budgetary powers that should have belonged to Congress had slid into the hands of presidents. One critic charged that presidents could appoint a "virtual army of 'czars'—each wholly unaccountable to Congress yet tasked with spearheading major policy efforts for the White House".
Presidents have been criticized for making signing statements
when signing congressional legislation about how they understand a bill or plan to execute it.
This practice has been criticized by the American Bar Association
Conservative commentator George Will
wrote of an "increasingly swollen executive branch" and "the eclipse of Congress".
Convening and adjourning Congress
To allow the government to act quickly in case of a major domestic or international crisis arising when Congress is not in session, the president is empowered by Article II, Section 3
of the Constitution to call a special session
of one or both houses of Congress. Since John Adams
first did so in 1797, the president has called the full Congress to convene for a special session on 27 occasions. Harry S. Truman
was the most recent to do so in July 1948 (the so-called "Turnip Day Session
"). In addition, prior to ratification of the Twentieth Amendment
in 1933, which brought forward the date on which Congress convenes from December to January, newly inaugurated
presidents would routinely call the Senate to meet to confirm nominations or ratify treaties. In practice, the power has fallen into disuse in the modern era as Congress now formally remains in session year-round, convening pro forma sessions every three days even when ostensibly in recess. Correspondingly, the president is authorized to adjourn Congress if the House and Senate cannot agree on the time of adjournment; no president has ever had to exercise this power.
Suffice it to say that the President is made the sole repository of the executive powers of the United States, and the powers entrusted to him as well as the duties imposed upon him are awesome indeed.
The president is head of the executive branch of the federal government and is constitutionally obligated
to "take care that the laws be faithfully executed".
The executive branch has over four million employees, including the military.
Presidents make numerous executive branch appointments: an incoming president may make up to 6,000 before taking office and 8,000 more while serving. Ambassadors
, members of the Cabinet
, and other federal officers, are all appointed by a president with the "advice and consent
" of a majority of the Senate. When the Senate is in recess for at least ten days, the president may make recess appointments
Recess appointments are temporary and expire at the end of the next session of the Senate.
The power of a president to fire executive officials has long been a contentious political issue. Generally, a president may remove executive officials purely at will.
However, Congress can curtail and constrain a president's authority to fire commissioners of independent regulatory agencies and certain inferior executive officers by statute
The president also possesses the power to manage operations of the federal government through issuing various types of directives
, such as presidential proclamation
and executive orders
. When the president is lawfully exercising one of the constitutionally conferred presidential responsibilities, the scope of this power is broad.
Even so, these directives are subject to judicial review
by U.S. federal courts, which can find them to be unconstitutional. Moreover, Congress can overturn an executive order through legislation (e.g., Congressional Review Act
Article II, Section 3, Clause 4
requires the president to "receive Ambassadors." This clause, known as the Reception Clause, has been interpreted to imply that the president possesses broad power over matters of foreign policy,
and to provide support for the president's exclusive authority to grant recognition
to a foreign government.
The Constitution also empowers the president to appoint United States ambassadors, and to propose and chiefly negotiate agreements between the United States and other countries. Such agreements, upon receiving the advice and consent of the U.S. Senate (by a two-thirds majority
vote), become binding with the force of federal law.
While foreign affairs has always been a significant element of presidential responsibilities, advances in technology since the Constitution's adoption have increased presidential power. Where formerly ambassadors were vested with significant power to independently negotiate on behalf of the United States, presidents now routinely meet directly with leaders of foreign countries.
One of the most important of executive powers is the president's role as commander-in-chief
of the United States Armed Forces
. The power to declare war is constitutionally vested in Congress, but the president has ultimate responsibility for the direction and disposition of the military. The exact degree of authority that the Constitution grants to the president as commander-in-chief has been the subject of much debate throughout history, with Congress at various times granting the president wide authority and at others attempting to restrict that authority.
The framers of the Constitution took care to limit the president's powers regarding the military; Alexander Hamilton
explained this in Federalist No. 69
The President is to be commander-in-chief of the army and navy of the United States. ... It would amount to nothing more than the supreme command and direction of the military and naval forces ... while that [the power] of the British king
extends to the DECLARING of war and to the RAISING and REGULATING of fleets and armies, all [of] which ... would appertain to the legislature.
[Emphasis in the original.]
In the modern era, pursuant to the War Powers Resolution
, Congress must authorize any troop deployments longer than 60 days, although that process relies on triggering mechanisms that have never been employed, rendering it ineffectual.
Additionally, Congress provides a check to presidential military power through its control over military spending and regulation. Presidents have historically initiated the process for going to war,
but critics have charged that there have been several conflicts in which presidents did not get official declarations, including Theodore Roosevelt
's military move into Panama
the Korean War
the Vietnam War
and the invasions of Grenada
Juridical powers and privileges
President Obama with his Supreme Court appointee Justice Sotomayor, 2009
Two doctrines concerning executive power have developed that enable the president to exercise executive power with a degree of autonomy. The first is executive privilege
, which allows the president to withhold from disclosure any communications made directly to the president in the performance of executive duties. George Washington
first claimed the privilege when Congress requested to see Chief Justice John Jay
's notes from an unpopular treaty negotiation with Great Britain
. While not enshrined in the Constitution or any other law, Washington's action created the precedent for the privilege. When Nixon
tried to use executive privilege as a reason for not turning over subpoenaed evidence to Congress during the Watergate scandal
, the Supreme Court ruled in United States v. Nixon
, 418 U.S. 683
(1974), that executive privilege did not apply in cases where a president was attempting to avoid criminal prosecution. When Bill Clinton attempted to use executive privilege regarding the Lewinsky scandal
, the Supreme Court ruled in Clinton v. Jones
, 520 U.S. 681
(1997), that the privilege also could not be used in civil suits. These cases established the legal precedent
that executive privilege is valid, although the exact extent of the privilege has yet to be clearly defined. Additionally, federal courts have allowed this privilege to radiate outward and protect other executive branch employees, but have weakened that protection for those executive branch communications that do not involve the president.
The degree to which the president personally has absolute immunity
from court cases is contested and has been the subject of several Supreme Court decisions. Nixon v. Fitzgerald
(1982) dismissed a civil lawsuit against by-then former president Richard Nixon based on his official actions. Clinton v. Jones
(1997) decided that a president has no immunity against civil suits for actions taken before becoming president, and ruled that a sexual harassment suit could proceed without delay, even against a sitting president. The 2019 Mueller Report
on Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election detailed evidence of possible obstruction of justice
, but investigators declined to refer Donald Trump
for prosecution based on a United States Department of Justice
policy against indicting an incumbent president. The report noted that impeachment
by Congress was available as a remedy. As of October 2019, a case was pending in the federal courts regarding access to personal tax returns in a criminal case brought against Donald Trump by the New York County District Attorney
alleging violations of New York state law.
President Reagan reviews honor guards during a state visit to China, 1984
As a national leader, the president also fulfills many less formal ceremonial duties. For example, William Howard Taft
started the tradition of throwing out the ceremonial first pitch
in 1910 at Griffith Stadium
, Washington, D.C., on the Washington Senators's Opening Day
. Every president since Taft, except for Jimmy Carter
, threw out at least one ceremonial first ball or pitch for Opening Day, the All-Star Game
, or the World Series
, usually with much fanfare.
Every president since Theodore Roosevelt
has served as honorary president of the Boy Scouts of America
The modern presidency holds the president as one of the nation's premier celebrities. Some argue that images of the presidency have a tendency to be manipulated by administration public relations
officials as well as by presidents themselves. One critic described the presidency as "propagandized leadership" which has a "mesmerizing power surrounding the office".
Administration public relations managers staged carefully crafted photo-ops
of smiling presidents with smiling crowds for television cameras.
One critic wrote the image of John F. Kennedy
was described as carefully framed "in rich detail" which "drew on the power of myth" regarding the incident of PT 109
and wrote that Kennedy understood how to use images to further his presidential ambitions.
As a result, some political commentators have opined that American voters have unrealistic expectations of presidents: voters expect a president to "drive the economy, vanquish enemies, lead the free world, comfort tornado victims, heal the national soul and protect borrowers from hidden credit-card fees".
Head of party
The president is typically considered to be the head of his or her political party. Since the entire House of Representatives and at least one-third of the Senate is elected simultaneously with the president, candidates from a political party inevitably have their electoral success intertwined with the performance of the party's presidential candidate. The coattail effect
, or lack thereof, will also often impact a party's candidates at state and local levels of government as well. However, there are often tensions between a president and others in the party, with presidents who lose significant support from their party's caucus in Congress generally viewed to be weaker and less effective.
With the rise of the United States as a superpower
in the 20th century, and the United States having the world's largest economy into the 21st century, the president is typically viewed as a global leader, and at times the world's most powerful political figure. The position of the United States as the leading member of NATO
, and the country's strong relationships with other wealthy or democratic nations like those comprising the European Union
, have led to the moniker that the president is the "leader of the free world
A person who meets the above qualifications would, however, still be disqualified from holding the office of president under any of the following conditions:
- Under Article I, Section 3, Clause 7, having been impeached, convicted and disqualified from holding further public office, although there is some legal debate as to whether the disqualification clause also includes the presidential office: the only previous persons so punished were three federal judges.
- Under Section 3 of the Fourteenth Amendment, no person who swore an oath to support the Constitution, and later rebelled against the United States, is eligible to hold any office. However, this disqualification can be lifted by a two-thirds vote of each house of Congress. There is, again, some debate as to whether the clause as written allows disqualification from the presidential position, or whether it would first require litigation outside of Congress, although there is precedent for use of this amendment outside of the original intended purpose of excluding Confederates from public office after the Civil War.
- Under the Twenty-second Amendment, no person can be elected president more than twice. The amendment also specifies that if any eligible person serves as president or acting president for more than two years of a term for which some other eligible person was elected president, the former can only be elected president once.
Campaigns and nomination
The modern presidential campaign begins before the primary elections
, which the two major political parties use to clear the field of candidates before their national nominating conventions
, where the most successful candidate is made the party's presidential nominee. Typically, the party's presidential candidate chooses a vice presidential nominee, and this choice is rubber-stamped
by the convention. The most common previous profession of presidents is lawyer.
Nominees participate in nationally televised debates
, and while the debates are usually restricted to the Democratic
nominees, third party
candidates may be invited, such as Ross Perot
in the 1992 debates. Nominees campaign across the country to explain their views, convince voters and solicit contributions. Much of the modern electoral process is concerned with winning swing states
through frequent visits and mass media
The president is elected indirectly by the voters of each state and the District of Columbia
through the Electoral College, a body of electors formed every four years for the sole purpose of electing the president and vice president to concurrent four-year terms. As prescribed by Article II, Section 1, Clause 2, each state is entitled to a number of electors equal to the size of its total delegation in both houses of Congress. Additionally, the Twenty-third Amendment
provides that the District of Columbia is entitled to the number it would have if it were a state, but in no case more than that of the least populous state.
Currently, all states and the District of Columbia select their electors based on a popular election.
In all but two states, the party whose presidential–vice presidential ticket
receives a plurality
of popular votes in the state has its entire slate
of elector nominees chosen as the state's electors. Maine
deviate from this winner-take-all practice, awarding two electors to the statewide winner and one to the winner in each congressional district
On the first Monday after the second Wednesday in December, about six weeks after the election, the electors convene in their respective state capitals (and in Washington, D.C.) to vote for president and, on a separate ballot, for vice president. They typically vote for the candidates of the party
that nominated them. While there is no constitutional mandate or federal law requiring them to do so, the District of Columbia and 32 states have laws requiring that their electors vote for the candidates to whom they are pledged
The constitutionality of these laws was upheld in Chiafalo v. Washington
Following the vote, each state then sends a certified record of their electoral votes to Congress. The votes of the electors are opened and counted during a joint session of Congress, held in the first week of January. If a candidate has received an absolute majority
of electoral votes for president (currently 270 of 538), that person is declared the winner. Otherwise, the House of Representatives
must meet to elect a president using a contingent election
procedure in which representatives, voting by state delegation, with each state casting a single vote, choose between the top three
electoral vote-getters for president. For a candidate to win, he or she must receive the votes of an absolute majority of states (currently 26 of 50).
There have been two contingent presidential elections in the nation's history. A 73–73 electoral vote tie between Thomas Jefferson and fellow Democratic-Republican Aaron Burr
in the election of 1800
necessitated the first. Conducted under the original procedure established by Article II, Section 1, Clause 3
of the Constitution, which stipulates that if two or three persons received a majority vote and an equal vote, the House of Representatives would choose one of them for president; the runner-up would become vice president.
On February 17, 1801, Jefferson was elected president on the 36th ballot, and Burr elected vice president. Afterward, the system was overhauled through the Twelfth Amendment in time to be used in the 1804 election
A quarter-century later, the choice for president again devolved to the House when no candidate won an absolute majority of electoral votes (131 of 261) in the election of 1824
. Under the Twelfth Amendment, the House was required to choose a president from among the top three electoral vote recipients: Andrew Jackson
, John Quincy Adams
, and William H. Crawford
. Held February 9, 1825, this second and most recent contingent election resulted in John Quincy Adams being elected president on the first ballot.
Pursuant to the Twentieth Amendment
, the four-year term of office for both the president and the vice president begins at noon on January 20.
The first presidential and vice presidential terms to begin on this date, known as Inauguration Day
, were the second terms
of President Franklin D. Roosevelt
and Vice President John Nance Garner
Previously, Inauguration Day was on March 4. As a result of the date change, the first term (1933–37) of both men had been shortened by 43 days.
I do solemnly swear (or affirm
) that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States.
Presidents have traditionally placed one hand upon a Bible
while taking the oath, and have added "So help me God" to the end of the oath.
Although the oath may be administered by any person authorized by law to administer oaths, presidents are traditionally sworn in by the chief justice of the United States
When the first president, George Washington, announced in his Farewell Address
that he was not running for a third term, he established a "two terms then out" precedent. Precedent became tradition after Thomas Jefferson
publicly embraced the principle a decade later during his second term, as did his two immediate successors, James Madison
and James Monroe
In spite of the strong two-term tradition, Ulysses S. Grant
unsuccessfully sought a non-consecutive third term in 1880.
In 1940, after leading the nation through the Great Depression
, Franklin Roosevelt was elected to a third term, breaking the long-standing precedent. Four years later, with the U.S. engaged in World War II
, he was re-elected again despite his declining physical health; he died 82 days into his fourth term on April 12, 1945.
In response to the unprecedented length of Roosevelt's presidency, the Twenty-second Amendment
in 1951. The amendment bars anyone from being elected president more than twice, or once if that person served more than two years (24 months) of another president's four-year term. Harry S. Truman
, president when this term limit
came into force, was exempted from its limitations, and briefly sought a second full term—to which he would have otherwise been ineligible for election, as he had been president for more than two years of Roosevelt's fourth term—before he withdrew from the 1952 election
Since the amendment's adoption, five presidents have served two full terms: Dwight D. Eisenhower
, Ronald Reagan
, Bill Clinton
, George W. Bush
, and Barack Obama
. Jimmy Carter
, George H. W. Bush
, and Donald Trump
each sought a second term but were defeated. Richard Nixon
was elected to a second term, but resigned before completing it. Lyndon B. Johnson
, having held the presidency for one full term in addition to only 14 months of John F. Kennedy
's unexpired term, was eligible for a second full term in 1968, but he withdrew from the Democratic primary
. Additionally, Gerald Ford
, who served out the last two years and five months of Nixon's second term, sought a full term but was defeated by Jimmy Carter in the 1976 election
Vacancies and succession
President McKinley and his successor, Theodore Roosevelt
Under Section 1 of the Twenty-fifth Amendment
, ratified in 1967, the vice president becomes president upon the removal from office
, death, or resignation of the president. Deaths have occurred a number of times, resignation has occurred only once, and removal from office has never occurred.
The original Constitution, in Article II, Section 1, Clause 6
, stated only that the vice president assumes the "powers and duties" of the presidency in the event of a president's removal, death, resignation, or inability.
Under this clause, there was ambiguity about whether the vice president would actually become president in the event of a vacancy, or simply act
potentially resulting in a special election
. Upon the death of William Henry Harrison
in 1841, Vice President John Tyler
declared that he had succeeded to the office itself, refusing to accept any papers addressed to the "Acting President," and Congress ultimately accepted it. This established a precedent for future successions, although it was not formally clarified until the Twenty-fifth Amendment was ratified.
In the event of a double vacancy, Article II, Section 1, Clause 6 also authorizes Congress to declare who shall become acting president in the "Case of Removal, Death, Resignation or Inability, both of the president and vice president".
The Presidential Succession Act of 1947
(codified as 3 U.S.C. § 19
) provides that if both the president and vice president have left office or are both otherwise unavailable to serve during their terms of office, the presidential line of succession
follows the order of: speaker of the House, then, if necessary, the president pro tempore of the Senate, and then if necessary, the eligible heads of federal executive departments
who form the president's cabinet
. The cabinet currently has 15 members, of which the secretary of state is first in line; the other Cabinet secretaries follow in the order in which their department (or the department of which their department is the successor) was created. Those individuals who are constitutionally ineligible to be elected to the presidency are also disqualified from assuming the powers and duties of the presidency through succession. No statutory successor has yet been called upon to act as president.
Declarations of inability
Under the Twenty-fifth Amendment, the president may temporarily transfer the presidential powers and duties to the vice president, who then becomes acting president
, by transmitting to the speaker of the House
and the president pro tempore of the Senate
a statement that he is unable to discharge his duties. The president resumes his or her powers upon transmitting a second declaration stating that he is again able. The mechanism was used once by Ronald Reagan
and twice by George W. Bush
, in all cases in anticipation of surgery.
The Twenty-fifth Amendment also provides that the vice president, together with a majority of certain members of the Cabinet
, may transfer the presidential powers and duties to the vice president by transmitting a written declaration, to the speaker of the House and the president pro tempore
of the Senate, to the effect that the president is unable to discharge his or her powers and duties. If the president then declares that no such inability exist, he or she resumes the presidential powers unless the vice president and Cabinet make a second declaration of presidential inability, in which case Congress decides the question.
Article II, Section 4
of the Constitution allows for the removal of high federal officials, including the president, from office for "treason
, or other high crimes and misdemeanors
". Article I, Section 2, Clause 5
authorizes the House of Representatives to serve as a "grand jury
" with the power to impeach
said officials by a majority vote. Article I, Section 3, Clause 6
authorizes the Senate to serve as a court
with the power to remove impeached officials from office, by a two-thirds vote to convict.
Three presidents have been impeached by the House of Representatives: Andrew Johnson in 1868
, Bill Clinton in 1998
, and Donald Trump in 2019
; none have been convicted by the Senate. Additionally, the House Judiciary Committee
conducted an impeachment inquiry against Richard Nixon in 1973–74
; however, he resigned from office before the full House voted on the articles of impeachment.
Since 2001, the president's annual salary has been $400,000, along with a: $50,000 expense allowance; $100,000 nontaxable travel account, and $19,000 entertainment account. The president's salary is set by Congress, and under Article II, Section 1, Clause 7
of the Constitution, any increase or reduction in presidential salary cannot take effect before the next presidential term of office.
The White House
in Washington, D.C.
is the official residence
of the president. The site was selected by George Washington, and the cornerstone was laid in 1792. Every president since John Adams (in 1800) has lived there. At various times in U.S. history, it has been known as the "President's Palace", the "President's House", and the "Executive Mansion". Theodore Roosevelt officially gave the White House its current name in 1901.
Facilities that are available to the president include access to the White House staff, medical care, recreation, housekeeping, and security services. The federal government pays for state dinners and other official functions, but the president pays for personal, family, and guest dry cleaning and food.
, officially titled Naval Support Facility Thurmont, a mountain-based military camp in Frederick County, Maryland
, is the president's country residence. A place of solitude and tranquility, the site has been used extensively to host foreign dignitaries since the 1940s.
President's Guest House
, located next to the Eisenhower Executive Office Building
at the White House Complex and Lafayette Park
, serves as the president's official guest house and as a secondary residence for the president if needed. Four interconnected, 19th-century houses—Blair House, Lee House, and 700 and 704 Jackson Place—with a combined floor space exceeding 70,000 square feet (6,500 m2
) comprise the property.
The primary means of long-distance air travel for the president is one of two identical Boeing VC-25
aircraft, which are extensively modified Boeing 747
airliners and are referred to as Air Force One
while the president is on board (although any U.S. Air Force aircraft the president is aboard is designated as "Air Force One" for the duration of the flight). In-country trips are typically handled with just one of the two planes, while overseas trips are handled with both, one primary and one backup. The president also has access to smaller Air Force aircraft, most notably the Boeing C-32
, which are used when the president must travel to airports that cannot support a jumbo jet. Any civilian aircraft the president is aboard is designated Executive One
for the flight.
For short-distance air travel, the president has access to a fleet of U.S. Marine Corps
helicopters of varying models, designated Marine One
when the president is aboard any particular one in the fleet. Flights are typically handled with as many as five helicopters all flying together and frequently swapping positions as to disguise which helicopter the president is actually aboard to any would-be threats.
President Reagan surrounded by Secret Service
The U.S. Secret Service
is charged with protecting the president and the first family
. As part of their protection, presidents, first ladies
, their children and other immediate family members, and other prominent persons and locations are assigned Secret Service codenames
The use of such names was originally for security purposes and dates to a time when sensitive electronic communications were not routinely encrypted
; today, the names simply serve for purposes of brevity, clarity, and tradition.
Clinton was active politically since his presidential term ended, working with his wife Hillary
on her 2008
presidential bids and President Obama on his 2012 reelection campaign
. Obama was also active politically since his presidential term ended, having worked with his former vice president Joe Biden
on his 2020 election campaign
. Trump has continued to make appearances in the media and at conventions and rallies since leaving office.
Pension, office, and staff
Until 1958, former presidents had no governmental aid to maintain themselves. Gradually, a small pension was increased, but with the public disaffection with Presidents Johnson and Nixon, some began to question the propriety and the amounts involved.
Under the Former Presidents Act
, all living former presidents are granted a pension, an office, and a staff. The pension has increased numerous times with congressional approval. Retired presidents now receive a pension based on the salary of the current administration's cabinet secretaries, which was $199,700 per year in 2012.
Former presidents who served in Congress may also collect congressional pensions
The act also provides former presidents with travel funds and franking
privileges. Prior to 1997, all former presidents, their spouses, and their children until age 16 were protected by the Secret Service until the president's death.
In 1997, Congress passed legislation limiting Secret Service protection to no more than 10 years from the date a president leaves office.
On January 10, 2013, President Obama signed legislation reinstating lifetime Secret Service protection for him, George W. Bush
, and all subsequent presidents.
A first spouse
who remarries is no longer eligible for Secret Service protection.
Living former U.S. presidents
Presidents Barack Obama, George W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George H.W. Bush, and Jimmy Carter at the dedication of the George W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum in Dallas, 2013
Timeline of presidents
Greatly concerned about the very real capacity of political parties to destroy the fragile unity holding the nation together, Washington remained unaffiliated
with any political faction or party throughout his eight-year presidency. He was, and remains, the only U.S. president never to be affiliated with a political party.
Since Washington, every U.S. president has been affiliated with a political party at the time of assuming office.
The number of presidents per political party at the time they were sworn into office (arranged in alphabetical order by last name) and the cumulative number of years that each political party has been affiliated with the presidency are:
The following timeline
depicts the progression of the presidents and their political affiliation at the time of assuming office.
- ^ The informal term POTUS originated in the Phillips Code, a shorthand method created in 1879 by Walter P. Phillips for the rapid transmission of press reports by telegraph.
- ^ The nine vice presidents who succeeded to the presidency upon their predecessor's death or resignation and finished-out that unexpired term are: John Tyler (1841); Millard Fillmore (1850); Andrew Johnson (1865); Chester A. Arthur (1881); Theodore Roosevelt (1901); Calvin Coolidge (1923); Harry S. Truman (1945); Lyndon B. Johnson (1963); and Gerald Ford (1974).
- ^ Grover Cleveland served two non-consecutive terms, so he is counted twice, as both the 22nd and 24th president.
- ^ Nearly all scholars rank Lincoln among the nation's top three presidents, with many placing him first. See Historical rankings of presidents of the United States for a collection of survey results.
- ^ See List of United States presidential elections by popular vote margin.
- ^ Republican Abraham Lincoln was elected for a second term as part of the National Union Party ticket with Democrat Andrew Johnson in 1864.
- ^ Former Democrat John Tyler was elected vice president on the Whig Party ticket with Harrison in 1840. Tyler's policy priorities as president soon proved to be opposed to most of the Whig agenda, and he was expelled from the party in September 1841.
- ^ Democrat Andrew Johnson was elected vice president on the National Union Party ticket with Republican Abraham Lincoln in 1864. Later, while president, Johnson tried and failed to build a party of loyalists under the National Union banner. Near the end of his presidency, Johnson rejoined the Democratic Party.
- ^ "How To Address The President; He Is Not Your Excellency Or Your Honor, But Mr. President". The Washington Star. August 2, 1891 – via The New York Times.
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- ^ "March 4: A forgotten huge day in American history". Philadelphia: National Constitution Center. March 4, 2013. Retrieved July 29, 2018.
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- ^ Robenalt, James (August 13, 2015). "If we weren't so obsessed with Warren G. Harding's sex life, we'd realize he was a pretty good president". The Washington Post. Retrieved September 14, 2020.
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- ^ Schlesinger, Arthur M., Jr. (1973). The Imperial Presidency. Frank and Virginia Williams Collection of Lincolniana (Mississippi State University. Libraries). Boston: Houghton Mifflin. pp. x. ISBN 0395177138. OCLC 704887.
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- ^ Kakutani, Michiko (July 6, 2007). "Unchecked and Unbalanced". The New York Times. Retrieved November 9, 2009. the founding fathers had "scant affection for strong executives" like England's king, and ... Bush White House's claims are rooted in ideas "about the 'divine' right of kings" ... and that certainly did not find their way into our founding documents, the 1776 Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of 1787.
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- ^ Linker, Ross (September 27, 2007). "Critical of Presidency, Prof. Ginsberg and Crenson unite". The Johns-Hopkins Newsletter. Retrieved November 9, 2017. Presidents slowly but surely gain more and more power with both the public at large and other political institutions doing nothing to prevent it.
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